, Volume 98, Issue 1, pp 15-24

Meat ants as dominant members of Australian ant communities: an experimental test of their influence on the foraging success and forager abundance of other species

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access

Abstract

Meat ants (Iridomyrmex purpureus and allies) are perceived to be dominant members of Australian ant communities because of their great abundance, high rates of activity, and extreme aggressiveness. Here we describe the first experimental test of their influence on other ant species, and one of the first experimental studies of the influence of a dominant species on any diverse ant community. The study was conducted at a 0.4 ha savanna woodland site in the seasonal tropics of northern Australia, where the northern meat ant (I. sanguineus) represented 41% of pitfall catches and 73% of all ants at tuna baits, despite a total of 74 species being recorded. Meat ants were fenced out of experimental plots in order to test their influence on the foraging success of other species, as measured by access to tuna baits. The numbers of all other ants and ant species at baits in exclusion plots were approximately double those in controls (controlling for both the fences and for meat ant abundance), and returned rapidly to control levels when fences were removed after 7 weeks. Individual species differend markedly in their response to the fencing treatment, with species of Camponotus and Monomorium showing the strongest responses. Fencing had no effect on pitfall catches of species other than the meat ant, indicating that the effect of meat ants at baits was directly due to interference with foraging workers, and not regulation of general forager abundance. Such interference by meat ants has important implications for the sizes and densities of colonies of other ant species, and ultimately on overall ant community structure.